TGlasgow Cop26 talks could fail even before the conference begins. This weekend, just at the start of Cop26, the G20 meets in Rome. This is a moment of maximum apprehension, as these 20 developed and emerging economies represent 78% of global greenhouse gas emissions. They meet outside the control and inclusiveness of the UN process in Glasgow. What they agree on, or not, could affirm the Paris Accord’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C, or put it permanently out of reach.
First of all, the bad news. The G20 communiqué is a consensus document, a minimum agreement. If a country says no, for example, to specifying a coal phase-out date, that won’t be in the final communiqué, so more vague wording can be used.
Second, the good news. Individual G20 countries are vulnerable to pressures on specific issues. If countries become isolated, they can accept what initially seemed out of reach. Italy holds the presidency of the G20 and has joined forces with the United Kingdom to host Cop26. This means that Mario Draghi, the Italian Prime Minister, will want to sign a G20 declaration that gives Glasgow the best chance of success.
A good G20 communiqué would have four elements: long-term emissions targets consistent with 1.5 ° C; short-term systemic measures to reduce emissions; commitments on climate finance; and a clear recognition that the G20 is far from reaching 1.5C.
The G20 must affirm its commitment to limit warming to 1.5 ° C, the lower of the two temperature targets of the Paris agreement. Staying below 1.5 ° C means moving climate action forward two decades compared to staying below 2 ° C, Paris’ upper limit. It means solving the climate crisis over the span of a politician’s career, which means he could end up facing the consequences of his failures, perhaps even in court. It sharpens the spirits.
If the entire G20 committed to reaching net zero targets by mid-century, fossil fuels would become declining industries. The International Energy Agency is proposing a net zero 2050 path, with 400 milestones, without any investment in new fossil fuels. For starters, that means ending government funding for coal overseas – something the US, EU, and China already agree on, so it should be achievable.
More difficult will be an unchanged phase-out date of all coal of 2030 for developed countries and 2040 for developing countries. This will mean cornering Australia, the climate pariah.
The G20 must end fossil fuel subsidies. Since January 2020, they have paid out $ 298 billion in fossil fuel subsidies, the same amount they spent on “green” recovery from Covid-19.
The developed countries of the G20 must reaffirm their commitment to 100 billion dollars per year in climate finance. A broader commitment to reform the banking and financial sectors to align with net zero would indicate that investments will turn to low carbon.
Finally, the G20 must unequivocally declare that, collectively, their emissions are far from being aligned with Paris. This is essential for stepping up commitments in the near future, including an agreement in Glasgow detailing plans to accelerate progress in reducing emissions over the next few years.
Each week, we will hear from negotiators from a developing country that is involved in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and that will participate in the Cop26 climate conference.